by Bradley Betters
Antifa violence will feature prominently in the lead-up to this year’s election. The left-wing movement’s numbers skyrocketed following President Trump’s 2016 victory and campaign staffers for Bernie Sanders have already predicted serious street violence should Trump win again.
Same goes for a Sanders primary loss. As another staffer recently predicted, this year’s Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee will be rife with attacks on police; enough, apparently, to make the infamous 1968 convention in Chicago “look like a f—ing Girl Scout f—ing cookout.”
With the weight of the Democrat machine now transparently behind former Vice President Joe Biden (who was the only 2020 candidate, outside of Andrew Yang, to condemn Antifa’s vicious beating of Andy Ngo last year), a “rigged” Sanders primary defeat and resulting far-left violence should be even more likely.
Busy alongside Antifa this year will be the movement’s unofficial legal arm: the National Lawyers Guild.
Although much lower profile than their enablers within the establishment media and among the more extreme elements of the Democratic Party, the National Lawyers Guild is actually far more important when it comes to keeping Antifa’s program of extreme political violence going.
Made up of thousands of hard-left lawyers spread out in over 150 chapters across the country (not including over 100 student chapters), and funded by giant philanthropists like the Ford Foundation and George Soros, the NLG explicitly and openly coordinates legal action and public relations in support of the Antifa movement. As one chapter states online, the guild’s member-lawyers “understand that legal support is critical in the planning and aftermath of any action,” and “can usually mobilize NLG volunteer lawyers to handle initial court appearances, and . . . often continue to defend activists pro bono.”
Their chapters’ contact details and telephone helplines appear across Antifa websites and social media, while NLG attorneys advertise their services on Antifa podcasts and blogs, such as “It’s Going Down,” the biggest of either in the United States. Unsurprisingly then, in 2018, when mass arrests accompanied Antifa’s armed mob-attack on a “No to Marxism” rally in Berkeley, police reported that 21 activists had called NLG for help, most of whom admitted to being Antifa.
In spite of the movement’s over-the-top brazenness and ultraviolent tactics (see their 15-on-one attack against an unarmed journalist), just two violent Antifa attackers have actually received prison time. Much of this lack of accountability can and should be directly pinned on NLG: Antifa’s most important enablers.
Antifa With Law Degrees
NLG makes open justifications for its broad and deep support for Antifa on its website and through the media. In the process, they usually recite, practically verbatim, Antifa’s frantic slogans and frenzied talking points showing how indistinguishable the two are in terms of ideology and temperament.
For instance, in a 2017 op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle, top guild officials explain how the group’s lawyers counsel Antifa members to protect Americans from “fascists and white supremacists seek[ing] to take power in the streets and halls of government.” The American people, readers are told, “cannot depend on the government to meaningfully intervene and prevent the rise of fascism.” That is “up to us,” they write.
Police apparently cannot be depended on to curb these supposed “take over” threats. They apparently have “sympathy toward the ideas being espoused at alt-right rallies” and cannot be considered an “effective solution.”
Due to the government and law enforcement’s supposed connivance with “fascists” and “white supremacists,” nonwhites in particular, we’re told, are in need of NLG and Antifa’s help.
“People of color,” the guild lawyers contend, are “in vulnerable legal positions” and apparently “cannot participate in confrontations [with fascism] for their own safety.” The essentially all-white Antifa movement, therefore, lets people of color “benefit from the risks taken by those with more privilege.” Andy Ngo has also pointed out the movement’s overwhelming whiteness (in addition to its overrepresentation of LGBT-identifiers).
NLG’s History of Enabling Extremism
Older readers of American Greatness likely will be familiar with NLG and its tactics. According to Discover the Networks, in the 1940s and ’50s, the group and its members defended figures such as Alger Hiss, Judith Socolov, and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, as well as members of the Communist Hollywood 10. For these and other efforts, the House of Un-American Activities Committee labeled NLG the “legal bulwark of the Communist Party.”
By the 1970s, like most Communist groups, NLG moved into racial politics, representing ethno-terror groups including the Black Panthers, the American Indian Movement, and the Puerto Rican independence movement (whose members attempted to kill Harry Truman, among others).
As former senior guild lawyer William Kunstler put it in an interview, “Whether it’s the American Indian Movement, or the Black Liberation Army, or H. Rap Brown . . . I’m really interested only in spending my talents and any assets I have to keep the revolutionaries functioning.”
Also in the 1970s, NLG represented groups most closely resembling today’s Antifa: the white middle-class hard-left Students for a Democratic Society and its ultra-violent spin-off, the Weather Underground.
NLG’s Moral Support for Antifa Terror
NLG’s online literature shows it is stridently committed to Antifa’s program. This apparently includes Antifa’s use of violent terror tactics.
As NLG states, “[t]aking militant and confrontational direct action . . . are a crucial part of the fight against fascism.” The group praises Antifa for “ensur[ing] that the virulent white nationalism sweeping the country is met with militant resistance” and for “directly confront[ing] fascism by shutting down far-right demonstrations.”
Elsewhere, they explicitly state that “while many abhor tactics that involve violence, historical evidence shows that direct action has contributed to shutting down fascist movements before they gain too much power or influence.”
This is highly alarming considering the source. These are trained, legal professionals who are supposed to understand and respect the Bill of Rights, the democratic process, and the rule of law (rather than the rule of force). Many of them, now or in future, could be judges, government lawyers, and lawmakers (Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, for example, is an NLG member); people with considerable authority and influence on Americans’ lives.
Legal Support for Antifa
Following Antifa-related protests and events around the country, one finds NLG attorneys popping up everywhere. On top of general anti-Trump protesters, NLG members have represented Antifa figures such as the bike-lock-bashing professor, Eric Clanton; the near-dozen-strong group that shut down an ICE office in Oregon; Jeremy Ibarra, who was part of an Antifa mob that attacked a Portland free-speech rally (Ibarra refused a plea deal offered by prosecutors at NLG’s urging on the ground that “fighting fascism is not a crime.”); and Michael Williams, who, along with Berkeley schoolteacher, Yvette Felarca, was charged with felony assault and rioting at a demonstration in California.
They also sue police regularly, which, in combination with its direct representation of Antifa, they explicitly state has facilitated Antifa violence. According to its newsletter, NLG has been able to influence the way police in Portland handle protests, stating that when mainstream conservative group Patriot Prayer held a rally in 2018, police surprisingly were “fairly hands-off” and “deploy[ed] significantly fewer crowd control weapons than the previous year.”
“This approach,” they write, “also enabled more left-right skirmishes to occur,” as well as “numerous clashes result[ing] in the bloodiest showdown” yet. (emphasis mine).
NLG also helped organize as well as defend the Washington, D.C. inauguration protesters of 2017. Leading up to the inauguration, Washington, D.C.’s Antifa branch (the one which protested outside Tucker Carlson’s house after posting his address online) placed on its Facebook page a message to members stating if “arrested while protesting in DC, the NLG is there to support,” along with a NLG contact form that read: “Arrested resisting oppression, racism, fascism, or white supremacy? From jail, call: (202) 660-1422 (write this number on your arm).” Ibarra had NLG’s Portland number on his arm when he was arrested.
Although the city suffered hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage (with over 200 protesters being arrested), injuries were strangely minor. One Antifa member present, Thomas J. Massey, told the Washington Post, he thought “there should have been more violence” and that, next time, he hoped Antifa would be “more successful” and that he’d “get to punch a Nazi.”
The following year, Massey got his wish (of sorts) when he and 10 other Antifa members jumped two Hispanic Marines in Philadelphia they apparently mistook for “Proud Boys” (Gavin McInnes’s former organization). Numerous charges were laid following the attack, including “ethnic intimidation” (Pennsylvania’s version of a hate crime) due to racial slurs reportedly being used during the incident.
Charged along with Massey was NLG organizer Joseph Alcoff, a leader of D.C. Antifa who reportedly has posted on Twitter “the left wins nothing w/ nonviolence” and “#DearRichPeople die in a fire.” Interestingly, Alcoff’s mother is a university professor who reportedly makes around $200,000 a year.
Apart from direct representation, NLG also offers a range of other services to Antifa.
When Portland police arrested more than 100 Antifa members and general anti-Trump protesters following nearly a full week of post-inauguration riots (costing taxpayers over $1 million in damages), the guild hosted a local meeting to field questions and offer advice to arrestees.
NLG also organizes “know your rights” trainings for anti-Trump protesters and manages a phone line for those inquiring about protest activity, including how to avoid arrest and understanding local anti-masking ordinances.
In fact, the group lobbies regularly against anti-masking laws at the state and federal level—laws that are intended to make violent offenders accountable for their actions and which were originally put in place decades ago to stop Ku Klux Klan terrorism. Over a dozen states have such laws, which are enforced inconsistently. When they are, however, as was shown last year when Berkeley police decided to enforce its local anti-masking law during Antifa’s attempt to shut down a speech by Ann Coulter, they can be highly effective in deterring violent activity.
NLG also leads a so-called “legal observer” campaign where hundreds of volunteers monitor police at Antifa protests in order to ensure ‘participants’ rights are not infringed upon’ and to provide pro bono counsel to those arrested. Some NLG observers, however, have been accused of turning a blind eye when conservatives’ rights at such events (like the right not to be assaulted) have been violated.
NLG is not like the ACLU, which at least pretends to be concerned about legal principles (rather the race or political beliefs of their client). For instance, unlike the ACLU, NLG explicitly states it will not provide counsel to groups that “promote hate speech.” How NLG defines extremism, however, seems to be race-based, as evidenced by its initiative to push the FBI to overturn its “race identity extremist” designation for blacks only.
There are limits to speech freedoms, NLG contends, and the group “will not be swayed by the argument [against Antifa’s tactics] that hateful, dangerous speech should be tolerated at any cost.” To argue otherwise, or to “recast Antifa as a violent, leftist suppression of speech is a dangerous effort eerily reminiscent of the left-baiting that accompanied the Nazi rise to power.”
Other Antifa Legal Defenders
NLG isn’t the only legal enabler of Antifa terror; the guild just happens to be the biggest and most effective one.
The Los Angeles-based By Any Means Necessary, for instance, also regularly defends Antifa members on a pro bono or low-cost basis. In 2018, BAMN managed to defend successfully five Antifa members who, rather astoundingly, were found not guilty by a Berkeley jury even after police witnessed them punch and kick a 50-year man at a 2018 “March4Trump” rally. After the beating, Antifa then leafletted over 100 pamphlets around homes in the victim’s neighborhood titled, “Safety Alert: Fascist Living in Your Neighborhood.”
Elsewhere, “Big Law” firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher provided pro bono representation to a protester accused of felony rioting at the 2017 inauguration protest, while groups including the ACLU, Disrupt20, the Bay Area Anti-Repression Committee and the D.C. Legal Posse, have provided a range of services to arrested participants—like NLG, the ACLU also lobbies against laws prohibiting mask-wearing, calling it a “civil rights issue.” They also sue regularly police over supposedly harsh treatment of Antifa and anti-Trump protesters.
The provision of free legal representation and other kinds of legal aid to Antifa is a significant form of material support. It also provides the movement with a big boost in morale when carrying out its extreme program of terror and violence. Knowing one has a legal support base at the ready will increase the confidence of those already committed to violence and likely push those into violent law-breaking who would otherwise be deterred.
This raises the question of whether Antifa would have been able to cause the amount of damage it has around the country if not for the aid of the National Lawyers Guild?
Just as worrying perhaps are NLG lawyers themselves. It’s a serious concern to the nation that there are so many trained legal professionals exercising their influence within and without the system who reject the democratic and rule-of-law principles that have long underpinned it.
In the 1927 Supreme Court case of Whitney v. California, one of the most celebrated defenses of free speech and assembly ever authored by the high court, Justice Louis Brandeis (who was joined by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes) wrote that America’s Founders “believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth [and they believed] that without free speech and assembly discussion would be futile.”
A few years later, in the landmark opinion of Terminiello v. Chicago, Justice William O. Douglas wrote that a “function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute” and that speech “may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger.”
NLG’s Soros and Ford Foundation funders, as well as the media outlets that platform them, should be pressured to disavow Antifa and the terror tactics they employ against the American people – tactics that absolutely suppress free speech, the right to free assembly and, ultimately, the spread of political truth.
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Bradley Betters is a private practice attorney who formerly worked in U.S. and Canadian conservative politics. His writing has appeared at The Federalist, The Post-Millennial, American Thinker, and elsewhere.